[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Walking Dead,” Season 10, Episode 4, “Silence the Whisperers.”]
To its credit, “Silence The Whisperers” is the most thematically interesting episode of the season so far, arguing that it wouldn’t take much of a push for the communities’ new society to descend into chaos, as everyone works themselves up into a frenzy about the Whisperers. Also, Ezekiel (Khary Payton) finally gets some attention this week, sharing some tender moments with Michonne (Danai Gurira), which is a surprisingly fresh pairing on this show, considering how long both characters have been around.
Of course, this is still “The Walking Dead,” so a lot of this material is pretty ham-fisted and cartoonish, and the season still doesn’t have much in the way of narrative drive. But we’ll hand out some points for effort.
The main focus this week is on Lydia (Cassady McClincy) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who have a natural bond due to everyone else hating them, which only makes everyone hate them more. Lydia’s being picked on by a few Alexandrians who have good reason to hate the Whisperers — two of the Highwaymen, who lost their leader to Alpha (Samantha Morton) last season, and Gage (Jackson Pace), the only one of Henry’s original crew to not get his head on a pike.
When she turns to her father figures for help, Negan and Daryl (Norman Reedus) both offer nothing beyond platitudes; Negan suggests killing them with kindness, while Daryl pulls out the classic, “Can’t you just avoid them?” It’s honestly compelling to watch these two gruff loners struggle with the responsibility of guardianship and coming up short. And even more pressure gets put on Daryl when Michonne points out that Lydia’s presence in Alexandria is most likely what’s keeping Alpha from committing more violence.
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Gage and his pals accost Lydia one night and try to convince her to run away, but things predictably turn violent, and the three start beating a pleading Lydia in an effectively uncomfortable turn. Negan (apparently busy doing Night Chores) rushes to Lydia’s aid, but accidentally murders the lady Highwayman in the process, which kicks off a pretty silly debate over whether Alexandria should execute Negan for murder. Of course, that’s all rendered moot when someone releases Negan and he disappears. Lydia claims responsibility and locks herself up in Negan’s cell, landing an extremely accurate burn — that when Alexandrians are scared, they turn their anger on anyone but themselves.
The show has always flirted with the idea that its heroes are no better than the villains they’re fighting, but “TWD” always winds up justifying their often-outrageous behavior because, well, they’re the protagonists. (You’ll recall that the war with the Saviors began with Rick and his pals stabbing a bunch of men to death in their sleep.) This episode posits that the communities might be their own worst enemies, turning on each other due to paranoia while Alpha just cools her heels. This will all most certainly be tossed aside for a big, flashy conflict with the Whisperers, but the show is always better when these ideas aren’t ignored.
In other news, Ezekiel just straight-up loses his shit and seems to be seriously considering suicide when Michonne finds him. After talking him off the ledge (and a surprise kiss), Michonne opens up about how difficult it was to adjust to the zombie apocalypse, and how it’s been even harder to bounce back after losing Rick. Ezekiel, who’s lost, well, everything, can relate. Despite the length of time these two have been on the show, this is a surprisingly fresh pairing, and any scene with Danai Gurira and Khary Payton is going to deliver on the performance front. The more scenes like this that Gurira has before her exit, the better, and it’s nice to see Ezekiel get his groove back as he rides to Hilltop’s rescue. Hopefully his renewed enthusiasm is infectious.
- This week in “Walking Dead” ghost town syndrome: We’re repeatedly assured there’s a crowd out for Negan’s blood, desperately awaiting the judgment of the council. They’re just out of frame! You have to believe us!
- Magna (Nadia Hilker) is chafing under Yumiko’s leadership of the newbies. Nothing’s resolved this episode, but too much time is spent on it for there to be no payoff down the line (one hopes).
- Luke (Dan Fogler) gets such a prolonged goodbye from the other newbies that I’m now extremely concerned for his safety. At least let him kiss that Oceanside lady first.
- Not much to the big Hilltop crisis this week other than to stoke more anti-Whisperer sentiment, led by Alden and Earl. If the Whisperers’ goal was to turn all the kind characters into war-mongering jerks, mission accomplished.
- Lydia’s move to plop down at her bullies’ lunch table and messily skin a squirrel was a good one. Gage’s extremely teenage “Oh my God, what is wrong with you?” was icing on the cake.
- Aaron votes to execute Negan, because that’s what tough guys do. Dude, he saved you just last episode. Dark Aaron sucks.
- Siddiq has yet another PTSD freak out. Apparently Dante’s heart-to-heart last week was no help. Has no one other than Dante notice that Siddiq runs off at the slightest provocation? He’s your main doctor, guys. You have to keep a closer eye on him than you did Denise.
“The Walking Dead” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.